As far as point guards in the NBA go, you’d be hard-pressed to find better young talent than Trae Young and Ja Morant. After just a few years in the league, the two are already among the upper echelon at the one spot, as evidenced by their spirited playoff performances these days. High-level performances are commonplace for the two; despite being 22 and 21 years old, they already carry the mantle of (hopefully) leading their respective franchises to postseason success.
This begs the question, who is the better point guard between the two? Here’s a quick look at what the numbers say.
Trae Young vs Ja Morant: Scoring
If Trae Young is Stephen Curry, then Ja Morant is Russell Westbrook. One is a deep-range bomber while the other is a physical, all-universe athlete. One is crafty in looking for shots on the perimeter, while the other forces his way into the paint with barrel-chested determination.
The influence of basketball’s great guards is clear, but these two are more than just spiritual successors. This analogy works, but it belies the richness of their individual scoring packages. Both of them have elite floater games and are crafty operators inside the three-point line.
Consider their production stacked up against their shooting splits this season:
- Trae Young: 25.3 ppg on .438/.343/.886
- Ja Morant: 19.1 ppg on .449/.303/.728
To be sure, Morant is involved in 27.2% of the Grizzlies’ offensive possessions, while Young carries the Hawks for 33.0% of theirs. But that he manages to be a more productive yet efficient scorer despite this volume is all you need to know about who the better scorer is.
When it comes to putting the ball in the basket, there’s really no contest here. Trae Young is a natural and crafty offensive player able to lull his defenders and score in a multitude of ways with an extemporaneousness that is second to none. Though Morant has his interior finishing down to a science—not many defenders can stop him when he’s on the warpath—there’s still much to improve in his offensive package, particularly with perimeter consistency.
✅Second-youngest player in #NBAPlayoffs history to score 45+
✅Second-most points in first 2 career playoff games in NBA history
✅Grizzlies franchise record
— Franchise Sports 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@FranchiseSprts) May 27, 2021
Trae Young vs Ja Morant: Defense
We know what you’re thinking: Young should lose this with ease. He’s earned the reputation across the league of being a turnstile on D, and many of these narratives are linked to his height. It’s no secret that he’s one of the smaller guards in the league, after all. The fact of the matter is that size matters at the end of the day, especially when evaluating a player’s defense. It’s the NBA after all, where the average height is 6-foot-6. Only a few guards (think Eric Bledsoe and Fred VanVleet) have gotten away with shorter builds on the defensive end by way of their muscular frames.
But here’s a little-known fact: the 6-foot-3 Morant only has two inches over 6-foot-1 Young, who actually weighs more than his Memphis counterpart (81kg vs 78kg). As a result, the winner isn’t as clear-cut as one would think, with Young actually defending guards slightly better than Morant. Check out their defensive numbers for the season so far, per NBA.com’s matchup data:
- Against Trae Young
- Forwards: 55/98 (56.1%)
- Centers: 10/15 (66.7%)
- Guards: 187/428 (43.7%)
- Against Ja Morant
- Forwards: 81/148 (54.7%)
- Centers: 23/40 (57.5%)
- Guards: 176/395 (44.6%)
The overall defensive numbers are friendlier to Young, too. Opposing scorers are shooting 46% on field goals against Morant versus 45.2% on Young. Broken down by distance, Young is also the more efficient defensive player:
- Shots less than six feet: Morant 62.5%, Young 60.8%
- Less than 10 feet: Morant 58.1%, Young 56.6%
- Greater than 15 feet: Morant 38.0%, Young 37.9%
- Threes: Morant 37.0%, Young 37.0%
- Twos: Morant 52.7%, Young 51.6%
Team defense is a different story. Per PBP Stats, the Atlanta Hawks give up a 27th-ranked 114.91 points per 100 possessions when Young is on the floor. When he sits, their defensive rating shoots up to 108.8, good for fifth in the NBA. Both the stats and the eye test shows that he’s still a liability on defense, as opponents hunt mismatches against the undersized guard all game long.
But Morant, too, is a defensive minus on his team. Opposing teams are scoring 114.03 points per 100 when he plays, versus 109.48 when he sits.
Neither of the two is a perfect defender by any means. They’ve certainly been rough around the edges on that end thus far, but you would think Morant’s size and motor practically guarantee he wins this matchup when pit against his counterpart. This is not the case, as Young seems to be the more impactful individual defender. Surprisingly, this one will have to be a tie.
Trae Young vs Ja Morant: Leadership
Traditionally, point guards have long been expected to orchestrate offenses and put their teammates in the best position to score the rock. Though pass-first point guards are a rare commodity these days in favor of scoring guards, playmaking is still one of the better metrics to evaluate a point guard’s leadership of his team.
Leadership is, among other things, making your teammates better and putting them in the best position to succeed. For the season, Trae Young and Clint Capela were the fifth-best assist-to-scorer duo in the NBA, having connected on 136 assists. There’s no contest in playmaking: Young’s 42.6% assist percentage is good for second in the league among players who’ve played at least 50 games, while Morant only dishes dimes on 33.5% of his team’s field goal makes. His 9.4 assists per game is also third in the association, while Morant’s 7.4 is good for 10th in just his second year.
On-court impact is also another important consideration. Here’s a look at how their teams are affected in their on-court minutes and off, per PBP Stats.
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Offensive rating
- Morant on: 116.57 (7th in NBA)
- Morant off: 108.04 (26th)
- Net rating
- Morant on: +2.54
- Morant off: -1.43
- Offensive rating
- Atlanta Hawks
- Offensive rating
- Young on: 120.21 points per 100 (1st in NBA)
- Young off: 107.19 (27th)
- Net rating
- Young on: +5.30
- Young off: -1.61
- Offensive rating
Morant vs Young: Who’s the better point guard?
Effort has not been a problem of Morant’s in his two years in the league so far. His motor is his greatest strength and is the force that propels the Memphis Grizzlies on the court. It’s why the Grit and Grind days still don’t feel like a thing of the past.
Though Morant might have the higher ceiling given his physical tools, the numbers show that Young is the better player right now. Despite his lackluster defense, his on-court presence contributes to winning basketball for his ball club.
It’s why they surprised the league with a fifth-seed finish.
The future is now, and Young and Morant aren’t just the next generation of great point guards anymore. They’re bonafide superstars who are far past their fledgling days, and their consistently elite play is still nothing short of revelatory.